5 mins | 11 Mar, 2021

Identifying your customer journey

Every purchase, of every product ever sold, was part of a journey a customer took from realising their life might be improved by owning that product, to following through with the sale.

That journey can vary greatly though from product to product and customer to customer. It could take minutes or months and may involve many touchpoints along the way. Savvy retailers understand this and know the journeys their customers make well. They use this knowledge to guide and support them along the way, nudging them closer to the finish line wherever they can.

By taking time to understand your customers journey, you can craft a narrative that compliments their decision-making process, ensuring you tick all the right boxes along the way. But how do you go about identifying your customer journey?

The journey starts here

The customer journey is the journey between someone deciding they want a product and them purchasing it.

It starts with a spark (an idea!) - “I need a product to do X”.

Every product purchase we make is because of one of a handful of basic needs:

  • To create time
  • To create wealth
  • To satisfy a human need:
    • Food
    • Shelter
    • Sex

On a human level, that's it. That's all we need.

The start of the customer journey is always with this realisation - “My life will be improved, if i had X”. We either figure that our for ourselves, or we are told this by an external source (often through advertising). Once we’ve had this revelation, we enter the investigation stage.

The investigation stage

The investigation stage, is the time it takes us to make a buying decision (from the initial idea, to full commitment). Depending on the purchase, this could take minutes or months.

There is a range associated with any buying decision:

  • At one end of the scale you have the ‘Not ready to buy’ state - typically bigger more important purchases like a house or car start here (these are important decisions that you have to consider carefully and get right as not doing so could have big implications).
  • At the other end is the ‘I want this now’ state - small purchases like a coffee or a pair of socks likely start here (it's no big deal if these don't work out).

When making a purchase decision, a customer will always land somewhere on this range and start their investigation from there. Their investigation could be as simple as looking around for the nearest coffee shop, or could include months of learning about a product, its capabilities, use cases, visiting stores and reading reviews.

Wherever a customer starts on this range, they must reach full commitment to make a purchase. It’s your job as a retailer to help customers along in their investigation. If you do this better than your competitor, you will make the sale.

Where might a customer investigate a product?

  • Directly reviewing the product packaging
  • Reading in store marketing material
  • Visiting the product website
  • Visiting 3rd party websites
  • Marketplaces (like Amazon or Ebay)
  • Advertising (TV, radio, social)
  • Asking for recommendations (friends & family)

Ways in which a customer might investigate a product

  • Looking directly for product information
    • Specifications
    • Use cases
    • Imagery (product usage)
  • Reading/watching reviews
  • Seeking out demonstrations
  • Reviewing marketing material
  • Looking for validation (the power of social proof cannot be underestimated)

There is no right way to investigate a product. We humans are all different, with our own quirks and preferred ways of learning. Some of us are detail orientated and will zoom in on the specifics. Others take a broad overview big picture approach. As a retailer, you must understand your customer groups, the questions they may be pondering and give them as much as you can to answer those.

Your customer’s journey

To understand your customers journey, you first have to understand your customer. Start with these questions:

  • Where are they on the buying decision range?
  • Why are they considering this purchase (what basic need does it satisfy)?
  • How big a decision is it for them?
  • What’s important for them to understand?
  • What information will help them in their decision making?

Understand these things, then give your customers what they seek. Do this consistently and nudge them towards full commitment.

How big a decision might it be?

  • Easy: Coffee, Socks, Groceries
  • Easy/medium: Clothes, Power tools, Home utensils
  • Medium: TV, Washing machine
  • Medium/big: Holiday
  • Big: House, Car

Journeys end

Once you understand your customer journey, you can begin to craft a narrative across all your customer facing outlets. Your narrative should tell a story that creates excitement and emotion around your product, to build anticipation at the speed of which is appropriate for your sales process. It should pique user attention at different points and attempt to answer questions as (or before) they arise.

Your story could be told in many ways, involving text, imagery, video & rich interactive media. It could be digital or print, visual or auditory, social or direct. It might be told in one sentence, or over many chapters. The one thing it must do though, is speak to your audience.

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